Thursday, May 28, 2009

Thoughts on "The Hills"

So Heidi and Spencer are actually getting married (...on the show. In real life, they're already married). Besides being the event that is sure to bring about the apocalypse, their impending nuptials also have spurred Heidi into a more active attempt to reconcile with her estranged former best friend, Lauren. For those of you who need a quick catch-up, Heidi and Lauren were best friends until Heidi starting seeing Spencer. Spencer, who, for his own part hates Lauren, spread a rumor that Lauren and a friend appeared together in a sex tape. This prompted an ultimatum from Lauren to Heidi, "It's Spencer or me." Heidi went with Spencer. Now that she's faced with the prospect of the biggest day of her life without her best friend, Heidi asks Spencer to call Lauren to apologize. Spencer's response (I am not making this up) is, "I've never apologized to anyone in my life, why would I apologize to her?"

But it's Heidi's response and Spencer's admission that I'd like to talk about today. Heidi says, "You've got to be the bigger person," who which Spencer admits, "But I'm not the bigger person." Ah, Spencer. Truer words were never spoken. Spencer ends up calling Lauren and offering her a real, and actually unconditional, apology. We know from the previews for next week's episode (the one hour season finale!) that Lauren does go to the wedding.

Spencer has "never apologized to anyone" because he thinks he's never wrong. Why, then, should he apologize? Heidi almost seems to play into this when she tells him to be the bigger person. It's only when you're in the right that you need to be the bigger person. But all of a sudden, Spencer's true nature dawns on him: He's NOT the bigger person. He's in the wrong, in so many ways. I think his statement is about his whole life, not his invention and spreading of the sex tape story. When he realizes that he's not the bigger person, that he is the same sort of jerk (i.e. "sinner") that he sees Lauren to be, he can actually call her and apologize, something he's never had the courage to do, ever before! Then, some measure of healing can take place. Lauren comes to the wedding.

What ends up happening to us when we think we're "the bigger person?" What good can come out of admitting that we're not? What is in your heart when you apologize to someone? What about an apology leads to healing? What kinds of apologies don't?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Thoughts on Michael Vick

Michael Vick was released from prison in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, this morning. He'll serve the last two months of his sentence (for bankrolling a brutal dog-fighting operation) at his admittedly palatial Hampton, VA home. The e-mosphere (a term I'm trying to coin...electronic atmosphere) is abuzz this morning with debate about whether or not Vick should be allowed to play football again. Some thoughts: What does forgiveness mean? Jesus said that he who has been forgiven much loves much (Luke 7:47). The argument from Law goes like this: Sure, Vick has "paid his debt to society", but the penalty did not fit the crime. It wasn't enough. The Christian parallels are obvious:

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus preaches, "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person.If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you" (38-42).

It seems that this has far-reaching implications for forgiveness. Are Michael Vick's sins so heinous that the "turn the other cheek" dictum doesn't apply? Are we to go back to "Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth?" Are there times when the popular rejoinder, "Jesus doesn't want us to be doormats," is true? What would it mean to forgive Michael Vick? What are your Thoughts on Grace in this situation?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Thoughts on Saving Private Ryan

James Ryan walks through the American Cemetery in Normandy, an old man. He stops at a headstone, and falls to his knees, tears in his eyes. The headstone reads: John Miller. As Ryan’s wife comes to his side, he says through his tears, “Have I been a good man? Tell me I’ve lived a good life.” Moved, his wife assures Ryan that he has. Yet the tears don’t abate. James Ryan can’t be sure if he’s been good enough.

In Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg marshals a wonderful ensemble cast to tell a wonderfully scripted, beautifully shot, movingly acted, and soul-crushingly judgmental story. John Miller is tasked with taking a squad of 8 men to find just one. Private James Ryan is the fourth son of a woman who has lost the other three in World War II. It has been decided that she will not lose a fourth. Miller’s squad eventually loses every man in the effort to save Private Ryan.

Miller meets his own end defending a bridge by Ryan’s side. With his last breath, he looks at Private Ryan and whispers, “Earn this.” With these words, he dies. We flash sixty years into the future, and the octogenarian Ryan has clearly lived his entire life with this great weight on his shoulders. Has he indeed earned the salvation that Miller’s squad gave their lives for? Miller himself, earlier in the film, muses, “He better be worth it. He’d better go home and cure a disease, or invent a longer-lasting light bulb.” Has he discovered a cure for malaria? Has he invented cold fusion? That awesome upside-down ketchup bottle? As viewers, we aren’t given to know. What we do know, however, is that he’s worried. Why else does he beseech his wife to comfort him? We see that he has a beautiful family. His wife tells him he has been a good man. Clearly, leading a good life has not freed him from the judgment of Miller’s words.

Christians too often hear these words, “Earn this,” coming from Jesus’ lips as he dies on the cross. We hear sermons to this effect: “Is the life you’re living worth the death he died?” We live our lives trying to earn it, to become someone for whom such a sacrifice isn’t so radically inappropriate. We turn into old James Ryans, worried that it hasn’t been quite enough. The most shocking revelation of the film is that Ryan’s wife has no idea who John Miller is! Miller’s judgment has been so heavy that Ryan has not been able to share his name or story with his beloved for his whole life!

But Jesus doesn’t say, “Earn this” from the cross. He says, “It is finished.” Even more radically, he says, “I tell the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” The message of the Gospel is diametrically opposed to John Miller’s “Earn this.” Miller applies the law to Ryan’s future in a way that Ryan can never escape. No matter how profound an altruist Ryan may become, the profundity of Miller’s sacrifice will never allow Ryan to feel satisfied, or safe from Miller’s judgment-from-beyond-the-grave. One word of law destroys the grace Miller shows in sacrificing his life for Ryan. But it is not so with Christ.

No word of law escapes Christ’s lips from the cross. Incredibly, the word of law is applied to Christ (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). We are freed, and safe. We don’t feel compelled to hide what Jesus has done for us, as Ryan hid what Miller did for him, because Jesus expects nothing of us. Our Savior doesn’t say, “Earn this.” He says, “It is finished…you will be with me in paradise.” Thoughts on Grace?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Thoughts on Dumb and Dumber

Is there a perfect movie? In my sermon last Sunday, I suggested that the perfect movie is A Few Good Men. I've said that the perfect comedy is Election, as I've written in this space. However, Dumb and Dumber occupies a special place in my heart. I know that it's got a little bit of a rep for being, er...dumb, but Jim Carrey (with the stunning exception of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) has never been better. This film boasts some of the classic-est lines in the history of the world:
"What's the soup du jour?"
"It's the soup of the day."
"Mmm. That sounds good. I'll have that."

"Tell her I've got a rapist wit."

"What are the chances of a guy like you and a girl like me ending up together?"
"Not good."
"Not out of a hundred?"
"More like one out of a million."
"'re telling me there's a chance! YEAH!"

And maybe best of all:

" Hey guys. Woah, Big Gulps, huh? All right! Well, see ya later."

Dumb and Dumber is a classic tale of the search for true love through a haze of skull-crushing stupidity. It's very human, with Jim Carrey's Lloyd telling his friend Harry, "You know what I'm sick and tired of, Harry? I'm sick and tired of having to eke my way through life. I'm sick and tired of being a nobody...But most of all, I'm sick and tired of having nobody." Who cannot feel this?

If you haven't seen Dumb and Dumber, give it a chance. If you've seen it and hated it, give it another chance. If you've seen it and hated it twice, give up on it. If you've seen it and loved it, call me, and we'll watch it together, laughing until we cry.

"Man, you are one pathetic loser! No offense."

Great Movie No One Has Ever Seen: Wag the Dog, 1997 (Barry Levinson)
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